Chef Ned Elliott of Foreign & Domestic had a wish list of chefs he wanted to collaborate with, but running a successful restaurant gives him little freedom to travel. He created Indie Chefs Week in 2013 as a way to bring together some of the top chefs in the country in a sort of culinary exchange program, giving the chefs a chance to work together and Austinites an opportunity to try unique dishes from around the country.
This year’s Indie Chefs Week line up features five multi-course dinners from over 30 chefs, 24 of whom are traveling in from culinary hot spots like San Francisco, New York, Portland and Los Angeles. The dinners kick off on today, January 7 with “Austin Night” highlighting local stars and culminating on Saturday, January 11 with a 20-course feast crafted by the two dozen visiting chefs.
“I want the chefs to experiment and do whatever they want without [the] constraints of their own restaurant menus. This is their chance to have fun and show off who they are." — Indie Chefs Week founder Ned Elliott
“I wanted to shine a light on different chefs who may not get the attention they deserve and to create a dialogue about food,” says Elliott. Austinites are clearly interested in the conversation as all but tonight's dinner are sold out (and just a handful of seats are left for the inaugural meal).
Elliott originally wanted to invite a guest chef to his restaurant every month, but found it was easier to coordinate everyone at once during a time that is typically slow for many restaurants. “It doesn’t hurt that most of the chefs are from Northern parts and they are happy to come to Austin this time of year,” says Elliott.
The chefs also get to meet and cook with like-minded colleagues who they may only know through press or social media. “When you are a chef, you are busy running your kitchen and it’s very isolating,” says Elliott. “You don’t get two weeks paid vacation or much time off, so getting to come down for something like this gives you a chance to explore Austin and cook with people you’ve only read about.”
Elliott doesn’t put limits on the chefs. If everyone wants to cook lamb chops that night, then so be it. Instead, he sees the dinners as a meeting of the minds rather than an carefully planned menu. “I want the chefs to experiment and do whatever they want without [the] constraints of their own restaurant menus. This is their chance to have fun and show off who they are.”
As special as the dinners are for everyone involved, the true reward of Indie Chefs Week may be the bonds created between the chefs. “I could see on social media all the chefs who cooked together last year staying in contact after the dinners. It’s great to have those connections to spark new ideas.”
For more details about Indie Chefs Week, please visit Indie Chefs Week 2014.